3 - ASIA

Asia Map


Crane At sea.

Time is now 0825C, an advertised 30 minutes from Sinop, our first port of call (we stop one hour).

We arrived at the dock yesterday at 0740C, parked on the dockside, and spent most of our remaining liras on breakfast at a sailors' restaurant, in an alley off the docks. They don't normally do omelettes, but did them specially for us (albeit at 7TL apiece), excellent they were too.

Cars are loaded by running two rope slings under the axles, and hoisting with the ship's cranes. The cradle creaked horribly as Shadowfax went up (we were the last and heaviest vehicles loaded), most disconcerting for us. We left Istanbul an hour late, 1100C. Tourist class on these boats is pretty sordid, and the facilities are really grim. The purser will change foreign cash, but not travellers cheques.

After leaving the Bosphorus yesterday, we quickly lost sight of land, and remained so until nightfall. We are now in sight of it again. The weather is good, no rain during the night (a change from the last three days in Istanbul, each of which was marked by heavy rain and even thunderstorms at night).

(Evening) Reaching Sinop at 0910C, we were advised we had some 45 minutes ashore. A quick dash to change some money, then bought food (we had none aboard, and "starved" yesterday). Re-embarked at 0950C, with bread, onions, tomatoes, and peaches. Cheese was of two types only; expensive or abominable, so we gave it a miss. In fact, the ship sailed half an hour late, so the hurry was quite unnecessary. There followed another roasting hot and lazy day.

On the cliffs around Sinop there are numerous radar sites, and a chance acquaintance on the ship confirmed there is an American airbase there. No sign (from the sea) of an airfield, though.

The ship reached Samsun at 1600C, and will be here five hours, as much cargo (besides vehicles) is to be loaded and unloaded. As I write, we are waiting yet (1755C). We set off ashore, intending to buy more food. Instead, we had a good meal in a restaurant (66TL between the four of us), and bought no food. A local optician fitted my spectacle lenses into new frames (the old frames had broken, and been glued up, back in France).
We also found, in a backstreet electrical shop, a supply of special indicator bulbs, such as we had vainly scoured London for before our departure. We and Shadowfax bought four each as general spares.
As we returned to the ship, there was a beautiful sunset over the hills behind Samsun. The sun obscured by cloud on the hilltop, sending out rays right through the 180° solid angle. Very impressive and photogenic, but we had no camera with us. Mine could not have done it justice, anyway.

Approaching the dock, we stopped to look at an old steam locomotive in a siding nearby. Presently the driver appeared, and let us climb up on the footplate, and showed us over the controls. Keith got to sound the whistle, thereby fulfilling many a schoolboy's dream! The engine was built in Munich in 1911 (from the nameplate) - 60 years old and still going strong. So much for diesels!

We boarded ship, and settled to eat some newly purchased cake in the second-class lounge, thereby scandalising the steward for the second time (we had eaten scrounged bread in there yesterday). Meanwhile, the steam-engine moved off, with a merry series of whistles (we feel sure, meant for us!), while we waved, doubtless unseen, from a porthole.

The crews of these ships (I assume the technique is not unique to the Ege) have an ingenious method of pulling the ship almost sideways into a restricted berth. Approaching at an angle, forwards, they drop anchor about 100ft from the quay then, sometimes with the aid of a tug pushing at the stern, and a bow-rope made fast to the shore, they pivot about the anchor, and swing in to the quay. To leave, the procedure is reversed, but the bow-ropes are cast off first, then winching on to the anchor with the sternward component of the pull offset by a tug at the stern. Again, the ship effectively moves sideways.

At Samsun, the ship unloaded a quantity of hold-cargo, in addition to cars. Much of this was handled by the dockside cranes, of which there are none at Sinop.

We left Samsun right on time (2105C), but without any previous announcement or, as at Sinop, a "ten minute warning" on the ship's hooter. Had we, as first planned, thought to wait ashore until we heard the hooter, we could have been caught!

On board, we met a number of other (English) people making the journey to India, albeit without vehicles. For some obscure reason, all English travellers, it seems, come from London!
An avid chess school has developed amongst the four of us, with occasional other participants; Keith and Rik being well-versed in it; Brian and I novices.

Something of a postscript to our last day in Istanbul. We have all noticed a rather bellicose line in posters, etc., apparently advocating a total Turkish takeover of Cyprus; the slogan "KIBRIS TIRKUN", etc. I fell into conversation with another inhabitant of the Yurda, who spoke a little English; and asked him if this was indeed the general mood of the country. He said it was not; while a few might hold such a view he himself, and he believed, most others, would not go so far. They preferred that the Turkish troops should stop, as they have, in their present positions, to safeguard the Turkish population of the island. He believed that the Turkish Cypriots had felt insecure under the Makarios regime. Hence John Hanna's suggestion, voiced before we left London, that should the Turks merely expel Nicos Sampson and then go home, leaving the island again under Makarios, a way to permanent peace might be found, does not appear valid. The Turks would still not have been happy.
We were both unable to see any real solution to the problem, and while we agreed that the creation of barriers between peoples is always bad, there is little else likely to satisfy the Turkish Cypriots than an independent Turkish sector of Cyprus. Our only final point of agreement was that neither of us would take on the job of mediating the dispute! The discussion was throughout, low-key and reasonable, with no violent attitudes in evidence. The Turks are, in the opinion of all of us, a very friendly people. We like them.


The night of the 4th/5th, the ship ran into a mighty thunderstorm. No wind, and calm sea, just lots of lightning. Dawn broke with overcast skies and some drizzle, the first rain for some time. It cleared up later, though. We reached Trabzon dead on (advertised) time, at 1200C. Vehicles were unloaded by the same rope slings, but using the dockside cranes to lift over the ship's deck fittings (Orodruin was now on the seaward side of the foredeck). After refuelling in Trabzon, it was decided to proceed toward Erzurum forthwith. On leaving Trabzon, we encountered John, Penny and Mark whom we had met on the ship, hitching toward Erzurum. We picked them up, and headed into the mountains. The road surface is good but narrow, at first, and very dusty. Near the top of the pass, the road reached cloudbase, and with it rain; also the surface deteriorated, with frequent unmade sections. A very slow drive (average 20mph, 14mpg), typically climbing in second gear, dropping to first to pass lorries. At the top (height 2km), we stopped for food. A magnificent view, but the weather was hopeless for photography. In view of the frequent mud-runs on the road, I descended the other side in 4-wheel drive. We stopped for çay (Turkish/Irani tea, black and very sweet) at a wayside stop in the middle of nowhere, and bought a kilo of sweet biscuits (which all went that day!)
About a dozen stone-throwing incidents occurred during the afternoon, the culprits were children in the age-range (say) 4-12. As you approach they wave, and frequently try to cadge cigarettes with a fingers-to-lips gesture. As you pass, without giving cigarettes, they pick up a rock and throw.

We made camp in a dry river-bed just beyond Gumushane, using the "awning" between the vehicles for the first time, with the seven of us sleeping under it. (This "awning" had been devised in the Istanbul Mocamp, it comprised a tarpaulin cut from our oversized roofrack cover, arranged to rig between the two roofracks, as an "instant tent"). Some children and their elders gathered, and were very friendly. With just enough common languages (English and French) to get by; they brought us fruit and sweetcorn, the latter was cooked on a wood fire. We mentioned the stoning; the men said this was the work of irresponsible young children, in fact that it did not occur when adults were present. (But see today's incidents!)

The night was bitterly cold, Rik and I got up at 0330C, made coffee and went for a walk, as we were too cold to sleep. The others got up at 0630C, and we were on the road by 0830C. One more high pass (2.3km) was crossed, we stopped just past the top for food. While parked, a Belgian ambulance (Citroen) stopped; its crew were driving it to Pakistan as a gift for a hospital there, they themselves going to (non-medical) jobs in the country.

There was some good open road at the bottom of a wide valley, as we joined the Ankara - Erzurum road for the final leg. Both vehicles seemed sluggish here, and fuel consumption rather high. This was later cleared by free-ing the front wheelhubs!

We reached Erzurum around 1300C, with tanks nearly empty. Stopping for food, to stock up on cigarettes (expensive in Iran), and to check Poste Restante (nothing there). The P.R. clerk simply handed me all the letters to sort through myself.
Keith discovered part of the sluggishness was probably caused by the gas-pedal slipping on its shaft; it has been reset and re-tightened.

Erzurum has main agents for practically all British car makes, including a Land Rover main depot. We didn't need anything, but handy to know.

There are many barracks, etc., around Erzurum, and for several kilometres out along the East road, a blockhouse or pillbox in practically every field. The road is excellent up to the turn-off for Kars and the Russian border, but petrol is 0.1TL/litre more expensive than in the west of Turkey. This good road (plainly for military use) continues towards Kars; the Iran road is abominable, with loose gravel and shockingly dusty. Shortly after the fork, we crossed the river Kara, and a sign read "ARAS 7KM". The village does not appear to lie on the road, however; probably up one of the numerous side-turnings.

Shortly after the river-bridge, we passed a small and incredibly primitive village - mud huts no less (we were to see many more such villages). Just then Rik, driving Shadowfax, veered off the road when his right-hand front wheel "tramlined" on the gravel verge, and dropped 8ft on to mudflats in the river bed. No damage, he got back up okay, and we prepared to continue. Meanwhile, a crowd of about fifty people of all ages had gathered, apparently merely interested in the proceedings.
They turned very nasty, however, as we prepared to leave, first cigarette-begging, then trying to force the doors, throwing mud in through the windows, etc. We moved off fast!
Mark, who has travelled in Turkey before, says this is the worst trouble he has encountered; undoubtedly aggravated by the Cyprus bother. The adults appeared to take the lead in this episode.

We drove on about 10km, and made bivouac in the middle of nowhere. Looks like another cold night; I am using both my sleeping bags together.


Up fairly early this morning, as a group of "Jesus Freaks" (as we later, rather uncharitably, referred to them) from England, driving a Morris van, stopped for a natter. They have no Iranian Carnet, they are hoping instead to import the vehicle and then donate it to a charity. (I don't fancy their chances of success, judging by our subsequent experiences!)

Breakfast of bread and tomatoes (cheese all finished), to an audience of local kids. These showed a considerable friendly interest, nevertheless, we kept a close watch on security.
Orodruin's tarpaulin was just roughly lashed on, as we expect to have to strip everything at the Irani Customs anyway.

We set off around 0830C, the road being loose gravel and very dusty. There was no rock-throwing by the kids as we moved off. Another long, slow climb up to a pass at some 3.2km height, and down the other side in 4-wheel drive. As we moved on, we had several excellent views of cloudy and snow-capped Mt. Ararat and its smaller neighbour (name unknown). We stopped for lunch around 1300C, driving up a hillside south of the road, to get a better view. Keith and I took some photo's, accompanied by (inevitably) two kids. Around Ararat the road changes from loose gravel to rather worn tarmac, with numerous deep potholes. Fast, very interesting driving; intense concentration required to avoid the holes. In this border region, we saw several bands of Kurdish (?) nomads. These live in conical white or brown tents, and keep sheep and goats. They herd these on horseback; we never saw Turks riding. They, unlike the Turks, took little or no interest in passing motor traffic.

We passed through Dogubayazit, which is a very poor place, basically another mud-hut village with the addition of lorry-parks and roadhouses for the international traffic; and reached the border at 1430C. The two Customs posts share a single building complex, with two compounds between. Here there were a large number of wrecked and abondoned vehicles, many British; apparently the sole evidence of disaster having overtaken other overlanders. (So we smiled: that very fate was to be ours, also).

The Turks cleared us with no bother and after a little fiddling (the compound was jammed solid with lorries) we moved over to the Irani side.

Penny, Mark and John passed through independently of us, as per our standing rule (neither motorists nor hitch-hikers really know each other; either may be carrying contraband, etc.!); we dropped them in the compound and picked them up the other side. They cleared much faster than us.

The Iranis cleared our passports, etc., quite quickly, but then developed a massive holdup at the currency-exchange office. It looked like a queue, but turned out to be a free-for-all. 15 days' insurance cost us 300Rl. Thus the end of our Green Card, and of our uninsured driving exploits in eastern Turkey (that card had expired during the boat passage).

And so we drove out of the compound on to the Maku road. No one had checked our Carnet! Only on looking back was it apparent that we had driven clear through the checkpoint (albeit only 20 yards through) without challenge! We went back and presented our papers. Iran is 30 minutes ahead of Turkey and by now it was approaching 1800C+, when the Iranis shut up shop. Hence (?) we had an extremely cursory inspection by a very friendly official, who cleared Rik's papers himself, while handing mine to a "minion" to speed things up. Alas, this minion was incompetent, frequently having to check with his superior, stamping two pages of the Carnet instead of one and generally incurring his boss' wrath to such a degree as to be cursed off in English by him!
A fascinating habit of Irani officialdom, is to mix Roman and Farsi script with gay abandon. So that 237FPO (Orodruin's registration number) is rendered with the digits in Farsi and the letters in Roman! Personal names are invariably transliterated into Farsi. This language writes from right to left, but still top to bottom of the page.
We had hoped to have Orodruin endorsed in Keith's passport, which has more empty space than mine, but this failed as I alone have my name in the Carnet. Hence, they insist on using my passport.

Iran We cleared the border, after tea at an expensive border cafe, at 1800C+ and stopped 3km down the road at the first gas station, our tanks being nearly empty. Cheapest grade is 6Rl/litre, ridiculously cheap! Diesel is even less, around 2.7Rl per litre.

Stopping in Maku for eggs, we then drove on a few kilometres to make camp on some flat ground above the road, among some ruined buildings, apparently some kind of oil-storage complex or large garage. Passing through Maku, we were most impressed by the cleanliness of the town, and the standard of the road (good concrete) as compared with Turkey. We were approached by children in Maku (speaking good English), who far from cadging from us, wanted to buy almost everything, mostly clothes and "sex magazines"! No bad feeling when we refused, though. I am very favourably impressed by this first contact with the Iranis, none of the "Master Race" mystique mentioned by some of the "underground" guides to the East.

We made camp as night fell, in a rainstorm. Since our tarpaulin is not properly rigged, we could not use the "awning" (not a good idea in that much rain, anyway), so when the rain eased, we put the tents between the Rovers, using stones instead of pegs as the ground is so hard. Penny cooked us a magnificent supper of rice and mixed veg. - delicious!

Meanwhile, the thunderstorm blew away to the east, and we had a wonderful display of "celestial fireworks" on the horizon. After supper, a moment's panic, as Penny found what she thought was a scorpion! So did we at first, it proved to be a huge spider (a pet hate of Penny's) about 2½" long, with a pair of huge fat antennae at the front, which we had thought to be scorpion claws. At least, we assume it to have been a spider, as it had eight legs.


The sky cleared as we went to bed, but the night was not overly cold. We got up about 0900C+, to a brilliantly clear sky. Both crews spent the morning repacking, and in our case, also clearing up a spilt can of cooking oil from the rear of Orodruin.
Finally we got under way at 1200C+, watched by two boys; not hostile, just curious. They watched, and said nothing.

The road continued (all the way past Tabriz) with a good tarmac surface, excellently maintained, some 30ft wide. Kilometre posts (in English and Farsi) occur every 2km. The road quickly left the border mountains, and ran through a rapidly widening alluvial plain, some 20 miles wide, containing numerous watercourses carrying (for their size) small torrents of muddy water, presumably from the previous night's downpour.
The plain comprised successive belts of agricultural land (raising sunflowers, sheep and cattle) and barren salt-flats; punctuated by very shallow (say 500ft) mountain passes. The sky is absolutely clear, and a good hot day. Hopefully, we have now left the rain behind us.
The mountains around here have long since had any jagged edges weathered off, and have pleasantly smooth outlines. The landscape is of fairly soft colours, the rock being brown-grey, often thinly covered with tough grass.

We reached Marand at about 1430C+, and stopped for an hour, buying food. Prices vary widely; I suspect they try to rip you off at first. However, we met an Irani who tried to change money with us (we didn't deal), and interpreted for us in a shop. Hence, we got tomatoes at 8Rl/kilo instead of 60! Cheese is only available in a soft white form, which should be stored under water; it keeps better.

Iranian bread (15Rl/loaf) was instantly compared to cricketer's shinpads! Exactly that size and shape, but delicious. It does not keep, so buy it day by day only. No need to slice it, just break up a "pad", and eat it. There is also a chupatti-like form of bread, like a huge cold pancake; whose thickness and hardness vary considerably over a single piece. Good for a casual chew. Contrary to earlier information, there is a 20Rl coin, with a very explicit r· on the reverse side. We are getting quite well into Farsi numbering by now, using registration numbers and kilometre posts for practice.

Çay shops, Turkish style, abound. The price for a medium-sized çay is about 2Rl/cup. Coca-Cola is about 7.5Rl.

Just out of Marand, we stopped for lunch at the roadside, in an unofficial lorry park (the truckies drive into a stream to wash their lorries). Excellent open sandwiches on the "cricket pads", and a melon. The melons here are honeydews ("rock melon"), rather than the Turkish watermelon. We all preferred the honeydews.

The Iranian kids seem to want matches rather than cigarettes. They will also attempt to buy anything whatever from you.

We reached Tabriz around 1730C+, the rush hour. Iranians have far better cars, in general, than the Turks; though lorries, as always, are fearfully decrepit.
Iranian drivers are deadly, especially in towns, where they use the horn Turkish-style; rather than the open country roads, where they often signal with headlights instead - much easier on the nerves!

Finally, we pitched camp at dusk (1900C+) just east of Tabriz, after a really thrutchy low-range drive in which each vehicle in turn got stuck crossing an old track or ditch (it was not clear which!). Later in the evening, some dogs set up a furious barking, but as yet they have not approached or harassed us.


The dogs referred to above were repulsed by focussing the searchlight on them, they returned after we had gone to bed, but left when Brian threw a rock at them.

Up about 0700C+, to find an audience of about ten boys watching us! One of them demonstrated a "David and Goliath" slingshot for us; very accurate shooting.
We were on the road about 0900C+, the road commencing with a very long climb, just too steep for top gear, as we had no run at it. Once over the top, a very long descent followed, also with a fairly gradual gradient. A few clouds in the sky, but it was very hot. There are about three tunnels on this road, rather dodgy as they are unlit, and you enter from brilliant sunlight. We used the searchlight to pick out the road; nothing else had sufficient intensity.

Basically the day was just a long slog down Highway 4, ending some 110 miles from Tehran, just past Takestan. Around and after Tabriz, we passed many areas of irrigated land. As expected, there is lush vegetation, but I am inclined to reflect on how much underground water there is to pump, and whether they have problems with ground salinity.
The road still runs through a wide valley, the ground being a very thick layer of alluvium (I believe called "loess"), sun-baked; often salt-bands are visible in the walls of road cuttings, etc. Rock strata are also frequently visible in the weathered sides of the hills.

We hope to make Tehran fairly early tomorrow, and (if possible) clear it the same day. Some boys in Takestan asked us if we were going to the "Seven-Nation Games" in Tehran; we had to admit it was the first we had heard of them! These boys also led us (without being asked) to a water-point to refill our cans.

We have camped off the road again, behind a walled enclosure (there are many of these beside the roads near towns; we have dubbed them "Haçiendas"), between the wall and a railway embankment, getting a high degree of shelter at the risk of train noise. The Orodruin "awning" again in use. Penny cooked us another fine meal of rice, with cucumber, tomato, etc.


We had rigged the tarpaulin between the vehicles, as noted above, with our flysheet rigged on the railway-track side as a windbreak. This was a mistake, as the wind caused it to flap so much that we demolished it, preferring the wind. We had an early-morning call about 0630C+, in the form of a train! On the road about 0900C+, and off to Tehran; getting ourselves mildly lost in Qazvin en route.

Iranian driving continues to defy description; I can only compare it to the Ben-Hur chariot races! We were forced clean off the road at one point, by a lorry carving us up. Fortunately, there is a "hard shoulder" on most of these roads, albeit of gravel.

The last 30 miles from Karadj to Tehran there is a "freeway", which carries a 10Rl toll. It is basically a standard Iranian road, but dual carriageway. The surface is no better than elsewhere, but one can drive faster, as all the lorries prefer the ordinary road, which has more çay houses, etc.
We reached Tehran about 1200C+, and bade farewell to Mark, Penny and John, who are taking the bus direct to Mashhad. We had intended to change some more money and buy some film, as it is cheaper here than farther East. However, the camera shops didn't re-open until 1600C+, and the banks till 1700C+, so we decided to leave it for Esfahan.

As you run into Tehran from the west, one enters a very Europeanised section of the city, passing near the stadium for the 7-Nation Asian Games. The driving is ghastly, Keith handled all the run through Tehran and pretty shattering it was. We left about 1500C+, the road south running through a much more Eastern style quarter.
Wide streets, the sides filled with parked cars, street traders, etc. The shops to the sides again have practically all conceivable motor and engineering spares.

South of Qom We made camp some 30 miles south of Tehran, on the edge of the Dasht-e-Kavir (Great Salt Desert). The terrain is much flatter, and the ground is powdery dried mud, with a generous helping of salt. There is no irrigation here, quite barren land with thorn-scrub about a foot high. We drove out of sight of the road to make camp. Rik tried Shadowfax out in the "dunes", to see what low-range gears could do.
The main annoyances at this site were wind and flies. We attempted to rig the "awning", but gave up on account of the wind, and slept in the open instead. To bed about 2000C+; all of us were violently awoken about 2230C+ by a shower. Rain in the desert - you can't win! The others put up Rik's German tent, but later gave it up and slept in the open; there was no more rain. I slept in Orodruin, and passed a miserable night.

Up about 0630C+, and on the road by 0900C+. More monotonous desert country, and a fast road to Qom. About 20 miles north of Qom, to the right of the road was a very large (over a square mile) military complex, with very heavy security (triple wire fences and entanglements).
South of Qom We stopped in Qom for çay and food; I was rather unimpressed by the "holy city" - just like any other small Iranian town. [These (Shia) Muslim "holy cities" are sanctified by being the burial-place of a saint.]
Rik and Brian were wearing shorts; I fear they attracted rather unfavourable attention and comments. (Muslims are quite strict about any unnecessary body exposure - on men & women).

Keith did all the driving today, as I was feeling ill. We stopped and made camp some 20km north of Esfahan, just before nightfall. It gets dark around 1800C+ here.

Shadowfax had problems with a fuel vapour lock at a stop today, it recovered after a five minute cool off. We also met a Penn Overland driver, who has made the Na'in desert run. He says the roads are good, but has no up-to-date information on fuel availability.


We made camp on what was probably private land, some 12 miles short of Esfahan. Using the awning again, not much wind, and no rain, so we had no trouble with it. Stony ground again, unlike the previous night's sand. Rik brewed a very tasty stew (vegetarian), largely based on "bouillon cubes". Very popular, I suspect he will get repeat orders of it!

We got up again around 0630C+, and on the road at 0900C+. Into Esfahan, our first stop being the bank to change more of our dwindling reserves of travellers' cheques (which they did accept; there's no need for hard currency), and a friendly bank teller wrote out "Orodruin" and "Shadowfax" in Farsi for us. The Bank Melli Iran do not charge any commission on exchanges; the other large bank, Bank Sepah, do no exchanges at all!

We then wandered into the main square, the Maidan-e-Shah. Reputed to be second only in size to Moscow's Red Square, it has very fine decorated buildings on each of the four sides. The designs on the buildings are enamelled tiles, in contrast to the mosaic used in the Blue Mosque of Istanbul.
The first impression was of the quiet and lack of traffic; amazing for an Iranian town! Although there appears to be normal traffic access to the square, it is off the main traffic runs of the city. All round the sides are the metalsmiths for whom Esfahan is famous. Some beautiful filigree work in brass and (occasionally) silver. It is made by punching out from sheet with a hammer and hand-punch on a wooden anvil. They also make inlaid wood boxes, etc.

The square is very well laid out, having a large rectangular pool in the centre, in which some people were washing clothes! The glory of the square however, is surely the Shah Abbas mosque at the southern end. The 10Rl entrance fee is well worth it. Inside is a complex of richly decorated courts, which as in the Blue Mosque, defy photography. Something could be done with a wide-angle lens, however.
One dome we discovered to have remarkable accoustic properties if one stood under its centre; soft sounds being greatly intensified and echoed.
Shah Abbas Mosque

We then made the rounds of the food market; watching the Asian Games wrestling on TV in a çay shop, and buying 3½ kilos of vegetables for 30Rl! We had heard that Iran was an expensive country; it doesn't seem so, if you buy the right foods. E.g. potatoes are cheap, but rice is expensive.
Keith and Brian managed to buy three rolls of film for future use. Rik and I were unsuccessful in getting aerogrammes, as the PTT (the Irani post office) was closed until 1500C+. We therefore decided not to wait, but to send our letters from Na'in tomorrow.
We therefore left Esfahan just after 1400C+, by way of the river bank, to see the bridges. These are classics of Islamic architecture, with multiple tiers of arches.
The Na'in road began with a rather poor surface, but improved as we left Esfahan, to the usual Irani standard. Running over dead flat hardpan, occasionally having patches of gravel blown across it, from which vehicles raise enormous dust clouds. We stopped at Sagyi for çay and mast (yoghourt), and filled water carriers and one jerrican per vehicle. Keith scrounged some matches from a Moslem holy man, who later sought payment (1Rl) for the box! All pretty good natured though, we thought he wanted a lift to Esfahan (i.e. the way we had just come). It was finally sorted out when a traffic police car stopped, and the crew interpreted. They were very interested in the Expedition, and told us about the desert roads. Those marked on the I.N.T.O. (Iran National Tourist Organisation) map are apparently good, and fuel is available at every marked village. They advised against the track marked on the Bartholomew maps, between Anarak and Shurab. We intend to look further into this in Anarak. In the event, we spent over an hour there, and evening was drawing on as we left. We therefore made for the next fuel station (at Kuhpayeh, not marked on the I.N.T.O. map), intending to refuel and make camp soon after. On reaching the petrol station, we found they had fuel, but no electricity to run the pumps! We waited ten minutes while the supply was restored, then set about filling up. The attendant gave us the nozzle, to fill ourselves. While filling the left-hand tank, with the hose run through the doors, another Irani inadvertently stood in front of the pump dial. We called and pointed, whereupon he switched off the pump and zero-ed the dials! At this point, we had taken 60 litres, and wanted 10 more. After great difficulty, they understood that we had taken 50 litres, so they pumped 10 more, and charged us for 60. Hence we got away with 10 litres!

On this road, we saw our first qanats (ancient Iranian water-tunnels) at close quarters, lines crossing the road just east of Sagyi. (These qanats are a remarkable Irani achievement. Some of these water tunnels are centuries old, and up to 30 miles long, bringing water from the mountains to desert settlements. Formerly used throughout the Arab world, many qanat systems were destroyed by Ghengiz Khan and his successors).
We finally made camp in some ruins about half a mile south of the road, a mile east of Kuhpayeh. These buildings had been fed by a qanat, running on a 17° magnetic bearing towards the hills north of the road. The end of this qanat has run-in, but farther up it is very well preserved. The shafts are some 30ft apart, the tunnel being about 2ft diameter, lying some 20ft deep.

The ruins are apparently dwellings; we differ widely in opinions as to their age.


Building Thursday evening, Rik made another of his vegetarian stews. We slept in an open porch in one of the buildings, with the Rovers screening the entrance from most of the wind. There is usually a strong wind during the day, which dies down at sunset. About an hour after sunset is another strong wind, lasting about an hour, and the night thereafter is calm. About the time of the night wind, there are often a few heavy drops of rain. Not even enough to call a shower, they seem to represent dew, as exposed equipment is quite dry in the morning.
The pump in our petrol stove has finally packed up, but it can be pressurised by removing the piston, and forcing the tyre-pump's airbed inflator nozzle into the pump barrel cap.

During the night we were somewhat harassed by by what appear from "Exploration Medicine" to be "soft ticks". The bites develop into ugly blood-blisters.

We decided to spend the whole of today here, refitting for the desert, and go straight through Na'in tomorrow.

(Later) Today we have topped up all oil levels, and checked the air cleaner (oil clean enough). The survival kits, shovel and pickaxe, etc., have been moved into their ready-use positions, while the tent, anoraks, and dirty-washing sack have gone on to the roof. The tarpaulin has been re-arranged (again), being lashed in two independent parts, front and rear. The awning is lashed by separate reefings of orange twine.

There appears to have been a large cultivated area here once, some 400 paces square. There are two dwelling buildings, each some 10 paces by 30, the southerly one also having enclosed courtyards at the ends. The "cultivated area" (an area of shallow ditches on an open grid pattern) lies to the south of the buildings.

A sketch-plan of the more northerly building, which we used as a base, is attached. As will be seen, it includes two "garages", of an ideal size for Land Rovers.

During the day we also saw our first dust-devils, fortunately they didn't come near us.


Early morning, still in the ruined buildings. Last night was much colder than the one previous, and a constant cold wind blew. Possibly because of this, we had no trouble from the ticks.

(Evening) In retrospect, when we first arrived at the ruins, we all, to a greater or lesser degree, felt a "presence" about the place. Brian felt downright uneasy about it, Keith and Rik that the previous inhabitants had not been happy there - that it was an unhappy place, and I simply that it was still, in a sense, someone else's home. I felt impelled to systematically enter every room in the place, to introduce myself to the "spirit of the place". However, we all soon settled in and felt at ease there.


We set off today later than usual (about 1045C+), and blasted full speed to Na'in, to beat the "siesta", arriving about 1145C+. Orodruin was sluggish at first, but as we crossed the mountains before Na'in, it improved remarkably. Now running better than any time since England; doubtless due to cleaned plugs, etc. Rik and Keith swapped places today, so I drove with Rik. A "friendly native" led me to the PTT office in Na'in (I never would have found it otherwise). We also stocked up with food, being somewhat overcharged by a fruit shop. We tried Iranian kebabs for the first time, Brian, Rik and I all liked them, though we varied in our comparative ratings of the various types. Keith, being vegetarian, abstained.
The petrol station in Na'in was shut, so we set off for Anarak about 1330C+, since the map shows a gas station there. Our first real desert driving; very hot and dusty. No sand though, black gravel mostly. At one point the road was under repair, and we drove on the open desert beside it. Great fun, the vehicles wallow greatly when they hit soft patches, other vehicle tracks, etc. High range, 4-wheel drive is often helpful, but not essential. Some horseplay took place; people riding on the roofracks in the sand!

The vehicles drove a considerable distance apart on account of the dust clouds; so I, who was leading, stopped at an abandoned village to wait for them, and to cool the engine, which ran most of the way at 100°C. During this wait, I discovered that some kids in Na'in had engaged our winch drive, so that, as we moved off, we had jammed, then broken our winch cable, at the end splice. A significant test of the bronze swivel hooks fitted, in which I formerly had little faith. They are clearly stronger than the cable.

The roads in Anarak are good and tarmac-ed, unlike the dirt tracks outside; usually roads are worse in towns. The Anarak police immediately flagged us down, and checked our passports. This done, they were very friendly and interested, and directed us to the gas station. Petrol here is sold in 18 litre cans, price 130Rl each, and 10Rl for the can (not charged if you empty the can on the spot). Works out around 7.2Rl per litre without the can. We filled everything, taking 162 litres each.

A member of the crowd which had gathered directed us to a "mechanic" who could mend our winch cable. This was done, by Shadowfax pulling the free end from the drum until it came loose; he then used a U-bolt clamp to remake the end. Some of these clamps would be a good idea as spares. He charged us 80Rl, very reasonable.

We then took çay with our benefactors; meanwhile alas, more kids tampered with that winch so that, when we moved off, we broke the paying-on lever guide. The "mechanic" was called, and attempted to straighten it with a hammer, but only succeeded in breaking one of its end fittings. We gave up there, and drove about four miles, to make camp (it was now dusk) by some abandoned buildings and a pool fed by another (active) qanat. Here we cut off the rest of the guide bar, and abandoned it and the paying-on lever. We then remade the end-fitting (it was rather badly frayed), and served it with whipcord. It now looks quite professional again. The winch control lever has been chained down and padlocked!
The vehicles are now fully loaded, with full rated loadings of fuel and water. We can carry just over 200 litres of fuel with all cans in use.

We have gone to bed early tonight (2100C+), intending to get up very early indeed, and drive only in early morning and late afternoon, to spare both engines and ourselves.


Some of our maps show a short cut direct from Anarak to Shurab, but people in Anarak warned us that the road is very bad and dangerous (as had the traffic patrol in Sagyi), so we set off on the road via Jandaq. We had been warned of two forks on this road, at the first you turn left (before last night's camp), at the second, right. This second fork was not obvious to us; there are several small tracks leading off on both sides. The main road is obvious, however.
This morning we got up at 0530C+, and were on the road by 0700C+. 27 miles from Anarak, is a signposted turn right for Khor; this we decided on spec to take, as it seemed a reasonable road. The road out of Anarak initially ran through some spectacular mountains, not however, photogenic, as it was early morning, and the sky over the mountains was cloudy. Indeed, clouds were in evidence all day, although no rain fell. The road to Khor runs through flat gravelly country to the village of Choopanan, 34 miles from the turn for Khor. The road surface is loose gravel interspersed with areas of flat exposed bedrock. The gravel develops into transverse "washboard" corrugations, which are best tackled fast, as are the loose sand patches. We made the entire run in high range, 4-wheel drive, at about 45mph.

Choopanan is an archetypal oasis; mud brick buildings, (date) palm trees, everything. We ran up into the main street, and were shown to the çay shop, cum inn, which opened specially for us. The village policeman also turned up, and inspected our passports, amid the usual friendly pointings at maps, etc. We also bought food at the village store, but didn't rate the nuts we bought very much. Old and stale. We were then set on the road to Khor (a far from obvious right turn in Choopanan), and set off again, around 1000C+.

A few miles from Choopanan, Shadowfax' steering box cover came loose and fell off! While they fixed this, Keith and I remained in Orodruin, besieged by hornets, not aggressive, but very common in the desert. For this reason, we did not photograph the occasion. After Choopanan, the road runs through some hills, but is not very steep. There are several minor (unmarked) oases and villages around this part of the desert, not more than, say, 30 minutes I drive apart. We checked the lie of the road periodically (it is only a de facto road, made by wheel tracks) by use of the magnetic compass. Later, I used the right-hand wing mirror as a sun-compass.

The sun was on our right side most of the day, as the road is effectively, a big semicircle to the north.

We reached Khor about 1230C+, and checked directions for Shurab again. The people there directed us on a short cut via Bayazieh. This proved a wild road, especially after Bayazieh, where the police again flagged us down and checked our passports. This, we suspect, is done partly as an official security procedure with foreigners, and also for our safety, as they enquired about our route. After Bayazieh, there came the wildest stretch of today's run, almost requiring low range for a crazy descent through the rocks to the most barren plain yet seen. Most of the flat lands have a thin covering of scrub or sparse grass, which gives a yellow-green tinge to the far view of the ground, and softens its harshness. Not so on this stretch; just barren gravel and sand. Most of the desert is a thin coating of this over bedrock, the hills are bare rock exposed by the wind. The road also, is frequently exposed bedrock. This has a useful effect, as we quickly learned that the lighter the surface colour, the thinner the cover over bedrock, and hence the better the going. The vehicles are great fun to handle in this terrain, blasting along in 4-wheel drive at 45mph; then you hit a soft patch and the car wallows like a ship at sea. Keep the power on and the speed up: you blast straight through. We have not yet had to use our unditching equipment (ladders, winch, etc.); almost a disappointment!

After Bayazieh, is an almost completely waterless run of about 40 miles, to a village whose name (being entirely signposted in Farsi) is unknown to us; shortly after which we later made camp. About 12 miles from Bayazieh, in the middle of the barren plain, we encountered three Iranis in a broken-down Japanese truck. It turned out their battery was dead (can't ever have had any water!) and their coil blown. We jump-leaded from our battery, and Rik sold them his (our only) spare coil for 300Rl. Hence we got them going again; they gave us biscuits (rather damp; very welcome in this climate) and iced water from a Thermos jug. That truck was in a really ropey state: I'd hardly drive in Britain with it, let alone the desert. How they fared on the bad section near Bayazieh (they were coming the other way) I hate to think!

So we continued, to reach a range of mountains some 30 miles from Bayazieh. A few miles into these, and Shadowfax burst a top radiator hose. We, who were leading, missed them, turned back about a mile, and joined them within about 10 minutes of the incident. The hose was readily replaced with Shadowfax' own spares.
We drove on through the hills, eventually reaching the Germi - Shurab road, with a village visible to our right. We turned for this, hoping it was Shurab. However, it had no legible name, and the locals, after supplying Coke and çay, pointed us back the way we had come, for Shurab. Hence we should have turned left on to the road, not right. This is proved correct by the map, since our "short cut" ran east of the main road just joined. This meant we had no known roads between us and the heart of the desert, a little disconcerting when we found the road at one point heading North-East, i.e. straight into the desert! This proved to be an isolated stretch, however, the general lie is South-South-East.

So, having completed our first full day in the desert, and run some 200 miles, what are our impressions of the desert? A wonderful place undoubtedly; we have a great admiration for the people who live here, and for the amazingly extensive network of qanats by which they provide their water. These tunnels, both active and abandoned, are everywhere, and the road often crosses them by wickedly abrupt hump-back bridges, or more accurately, culverts.

This said, our other chief impression was of the dust and vibration. Dust gets absolutely everywhere, there seems simply no way to prevent it. There are solid layers on all exposed equipment.
It is tremendous fun driving over these rough roads; you strap well in and bash through! On "washboard" roads, vehicles shake dreadfully, until you reach a certain "critical speed" - about 45mph for our Rovers, when they seem to fly over the peaks, and the ride becomes relatively smooth. Control of the vehicle is not impaired, but a very firm grip on the steering wheel is necessary. We saw about a dozen other vehicles all day. The vibration loosens absolutely everything, however, only the best will do in engineering. We normally drove a mile or more apart, to avoid each others' dust.

The heat was, of course, intense, though the policeman in Bayazieh said it gets much hotter in high summer. There is nevertheless, a surprising amount of life around in the desert; we have seen both large birds of prey and smaller birds, and here in camp is an amazing variety of insect life. All apparently harmless, no hornets. The scrub is partly dry thorn bushes, and partly a curious plant, a few inches high, with a large number of bulbs on it like seaweed. These break as you brush past, and cool your feet with the liquid. This is colourless, but tastes bitter, so I wouldn't try drinking it, though you could easily extract a fair quantity.

We are now of the opinion that our eating habits (heavy supper only) are unsatisfactory, breakfast is a good morale booster.


(Morning) We got up early again, and began with a general inspection of the vehicles. Shadowfax had a loose spring-shackle bolt, which proved to have a stripped thread. Replaced with one of our (long) spares, packed out with a large nut. It seems to be working okay. Because of this repair, we were an hour late starting off (0810C+), and the day was already quite hot. Keith drove all day, as I was ill (I suffered badly from "tourist tummy" throughout Iran). There was no sign of Shurab, I believe the village we reached last night to be the one marked at the road junction, and Shurab to be an abandoned village (there are several such groups of ruins about).
Wheel Change
The road ran through another arid plain with occasional thorn-scrub, towards Robat-e-Khan. On this section we had our first mishap; Orodruin burst a tyre. Our first puncture, not bad so far. Changed and continued.

On reaching Robat-e-Khan, after a brief hilly section, we located the çay shop and sat down (cross-legged on the floor; no chairs here!). The usual military personnel appeared, we not being sure if they were military or police, asked one if he was a soldier. "No, no, Sergeant! Mr. Sergeant!" was the reply.
Mr. Sergeant and his colleagues took great interest in our atlas (which is much more useful than the I.N.T.O. map for desert work), but declined to join us in çay. (We later discovered that the Islamic fast-month of Ramazan had just started. During this month, September-October of the Christian calendar, Muslims are forbidden to eat, drink, or smoke during the hours of daylight. This commemorates the month in which the Angel delivered the text of the Holy Koran to the Prophet Muhammad). [Ramazan, or Ramadan, is determined by the Muslim lunar calendar, and so falls at different times in each successive year of the Christian calendar. In 1974CE, it fell in September/October.]

When we finally moved off, they confirmed the route for us, and just as we were passing the military post at the other end of the village, the usual flag-down to check our passports. He was downright apologetic about doing this to his new friends (as he doubtless considered us), but obviously it is in our own interests to have our position known.

The road on towards Robat-e-Kord is fantastic, mountainous all the way, with a colossal switchback effect, where the vertical profile of the road is a rough sinewave, some 10ft peak-to-peak, period about 50ft. An amazing feeling to drive on it. Keith and I remarked on the possibility of a motor rally through here; use any vehicle, any equipment you like, but no support vehicles, you carry it yourself.

On this run, Orodruin collected a second puncture. The outer cover has split for about 2 inches, it goes on the roof as an emergency spare.

Bus 1 Bus 2

There was no çay in Robat-e-Kord (Ramazan!); in the heat of the day, Iran sleeps, but World Trek motors on! Then, about 30km from Tabas, a Shadowfax rear tyre blew out. A wrecked cover; changed for their roof spare (they had given Keith and me their bonnet spare at our second puncture), and on into Tabas. The tyre change was made at a small oasis, a few kilometres from Tabas, where we sat on the bank of a small stream, under palm trees, and drank Pepsi.

On reaching Tabas, we first headed for the I.N.T.O. office/hotel, hoping to find someone who spoke English. Tabas had been our objective for the last two days, as often as not, directions were given to Tabas.
[Four years after we were there, Tabas was destroyed by an earthquake.]

The Tabas Inn charges 550Rl/night for a double room, we were very tempted to spend a night there, but decided it was too expensive. We took lunch there, however, before going into Tabas in search of food. No tomatoes, but most other kinds of food available. After refuelling, we headed out into the desert, to make camp about 10 miles up the road.

We began repairing the tyres, but by the time we had the old tyres off, light was failing, so we left it till morning. It was found that our first puncture had a totally disintegrated tube; the other tubes were, however, repairable. This morning, up early, and a tyre repairing session. The four of us have taken some three hours to fix those tyres, and are now firmly of the opinion that remoulds are unsuitable for this sort of job. The punishment handed out to tyres by these corrugated desert roads is unbelievable. Again, the job would have been ruinous without engine-driven air pumps; a foot-pump for this would have killed us in the heat! Keith and I, repairing a tyre, twice punctured a tube while levering on the cover; an obvious hazard. The tyres are now fixed, and Rik is inflating the last one (time 0830C+). Today, hopefully, we clear the desert; according to a signpost in Tabas, Mashhad is 300 miles away, and the good roads begin again in 100 miles.


(The same evening)
We got moving about 1000C+, very late for us, but much work done first. The run from Tabas began level, and very sandy, but the grade steepened as we ran into the mountains, and the surface improved a little. Still loose, but less slippery. At several points, there was evidence that a metalled road was once built here, but has since fallen into decay. Also yesterday and today, we saw evidence of the only maintenance these roads seem to get; gangs of men shovelling off the sand, and an occasional grader driving up one side of the road. (We believe those road sweepers to be convicts).

Some very hectic mountain driving followed, with several more "devil's switchbacks" up to the road junction at Deyhuk. From here, the road runs much flatter, with only the occasional switchback section, to Ferdows. However, the surface was quite the worst washboard we have yet encountered, Orodruin being unable to reach its critical speed for a smooth ride.

At Ferdows, we reached metalled roads again, after nearly 500 miles of dirt tracks. The roads have been merely de facto wheel tracks, marked by the occasional discarded tyre or petrol tin, they go straight through river beds, etc., no bridges anywhere, signposts few and far between.

Shortly before Ferdows, Shadowfax got its second puncture; changed and continued. After Ferdows, a most spectacular mountain section (on sealed roads) to Juymand/Gonabad, shortly after which we made camp. We treated ourselves to fried eggs (expensive in Iran), and fixed Shadowfax' puncture. Shadowfax has sprung two brake system leaks, one we have fixed, but the other will require a replacement part in Mashhad. The brakes are usable, but lose fluid slowly.

So, after 500 miles, and 3½ days in the desert, the terrain has claimed 1 radiator hose, 1 tyre blowout, 4 punctures, 1 stripped suspension bolt, and 2 hydraulic leaks. But we are still rolling!


Last night's entry was missed, for reasons which will become apparent.

On Wednesday morning, it was found that Orodruin's slow puncture had gone right down, so it was changed for our No. 1 spare, which had a damaged cover. This blew after 20 miles. We then decided to use up the remaining life of all our damaged tyres, and then be rid of them. Hence, the next blew 4 miles later, and the last 31 miles after that. So, with three blows and a slow in one morning, the Expedition had not a single spare between them! Nevertheless, we reached Torbat-e-Heydariyeh about 1100C+, and went in search of brake spares for Shadowfax. On driving in, we encountered again a not-infrequent Irani practice, the road is still being built, but no signposts; you just drive into a heap of dirt! We were directed through town via some crazy back alleys and a street market. Eventually we parked, whereupon a young Irani attached himself to us, and led us to a lorry-overhaul place which otherwise we never would have found. Here, Rik attempted to buy a brake T-piece, but the mechanic instantly dived under the car, and later pronounced the system good, after tightening the joints. Charged 50Rl. Our guide later interpreted for us in the food shops, and set us on our way, declining our offer of çay (Ramazan again).

In the mountains, the brakes began to give trouble again, so we limped on to make camp some 30 miles from Mashhad. Another tyre-fixing session ensued (for which reason we had stopped early), and while this was in progress, an elderly Irani appeared, and sat watching our efforts for some time. Eventually, he began pointing over the hill behind us, and saying "Kharboosar" to Keith and myself. Utterly at a loss, we followed him, to discover that "Kharboosar" is a rock-melon, of which he proceeded to feed the four of us. Indeed Mehmet (as we later discovered his name) and his son fed the four of us very well on both types of melon, showing us a very deft method of cutting and eating them, far superior to ours. He also showed us how to keep Iranian Naan (bread) fresh; wrap it in polythene! As dusk fell, we invited the two of them back for çay: English and Iranian forms were served. Quite late in the night (for us) we got to bed.

Up early again this morning, and we finished fixing the tyres. Mehmet and son again appeared, riding a white donkey. We had decided to discard the damaged tyres, and hence to re-organise our roofracks to make the best use of the remaining space.
We presented the old tyres to Mehmet (in addition to an old carving knife we had given him last night). He was highly delighted, and returned the compliment with a donkey load of melons! We ate ourselves sick (almost) on melon, and have a week's supply now. We took our leave, and hit the road again about 1130C+. (We were still eating those melons in Pakistan!)

Following our desert experiences, Keith and I have continued to lash down all loose gear on the roof, as it had been found that the steel ammunition crates, in particular, slid about a good deal.

We rolled into Mashhad just after midday, to find it is the beginning of Ramazan! Hence, no çay to be had. Indeed, we were made fun of by some kids of whom we asked directions to a çay shop; they are all closed. Driving into the centre, we fell in with another Irani who, instead of taking us to the I.N.T.O. office, as we had asked, took us to a turquoise polisher! Keith very much liked one ring he had, but 800Rl was too much. They said it is cheaper to buy loose stones, and have them set in Afghanistan. I am rather suspicious of the whole setup.
When we left there, he took us to a carpet saleroom! While Keith talked carpets, I was quietly taken aside and offered hashish, opium, and heroin! My story being that all such things are against my religion!! (They are also highly illegal in Iran.)

Eventually we left our "guide" and (having bought a map from the carpet-shop) made our own way to the I.N.T.O. office. They explained about Ramazan, which has just started, and directed us to banks, çay shops, and motor agents. All the above directions proved useless. No çay shops are open, but one food store (you can buy food by day during Ramazan, only not eat it) let us drink orangeade in the shop, so that we were not eating and drinking in public. A tour of the motor agents proved interesting but fruitless, and eventually we changed money (Bank Melli Iran have a skeleton staff in the evening, manning the exchange office only) and quit Mashhad.

None of us was really impressed by the city; the mosques are, of course, closed to infidels (such as us) during Ramazan, the streets stink from the open sewers, and the kids were a greater nuisance than for some time. To us, relatively fresh from the desert, the contrast was all the starker. It has to be said; we were glad to be out of Mashhad.

After a pretty hectic night drive out of Mashhad, we made camp at the roadside some 30 miles down the border road.
Keith and Rik made a supper of rice and meatless (tinned) goulash, which proved lethally hot (as was Keith's earlier effort in Istanbul). Hence, the spices are clearly present in the goulash (Keith's cooking had been blamed); this however, is now finished. And so to bed, to the thunder of lorries and the steady thump of a diesel irrigation pump!


Up at dawn again on the morning of the 20th, to an audience of kids. The wall beside which we had camped, proved to be the edge of a village. As we were clearing up, a woman asked if we had any medicine for her wrist: a serious dislocation which had been left untreated and become infected. We could do nothing, of course; a hospital case. But she wouldn't leave her children to go to Mashhad, and none of the other village women seemed willing to help. They wouldn't get involved. In the end, Keith gave her two codeine tablets to kill the pain, but even these she wouldn't take until nightfall, because of Ramazan. We later discovered that Islamic law provides exemption from the fast in cases of medical necessity, etc. ("the Koran is merciful"); but she didn't seem to know that, or maybe she belonged to a specially strict sect.

Eventually we hit the road, to immediately pass the wreck of a bus which had run off the road during the night. Casualties, etc., unknown.

On reaching Torbat-e-Jam, we refuelled, and filled all but one of our jerricans (spending most of our last rials), ready for Afghanistan. We also sampled local cakes in a restaurant (outside the holy city of Mashhad, they are far more tolerant about Ramazan).

The road bypasses the border town of Taybad, and runs straight for the frontier. The last 20-odd miles of road run through open flat country, with the hills of Afghanistan visible to the right (south east). Hardly any traffic in either direction, and a sleepy frontier post in the middle of nowhere. I had a real "edge of the world" feeling from all this.
Border: Iran/Afghanistan
We made the border around 1300C+, to find only one official on duty. Eventually it came to our turn, and our passports were cleared promptly. However, we had to wait nearly another hour for the Customs officer to return from lunch (so much for Ramazan!) to clear our Carnets. The exchange office was shut, much to Rik's annoyance, as he had hoped to change his surplus rials for dollars. He had instead to take them into Afghanistan, and change them direct into Afghanis. (Formalities have since become far more stringent at this border post).

We then drove about 4 miles through no-mans-land to an Afghan checkpoint. Four soldiers sitting outside their office, we stopped at the barrier and took our passports over to them. They maintained that my visa was wrongly made out, and therefore unacceptable. After a short argument, they let us through okay. A bit worrying at first, though. (They were probably fishing for a bribe: the normal procedure is to slip a 100Af note into the back of your passport, and request them to inspect it again. Amazingly, it is suddenly in order! We didn't know about this at the time, so we just argued until they gave up on us.)

Another 3 miles and we reached the Customs post proper. The contrast with the well-run Irani Customs was startling. Here were tumbledown buildings that can't have seen paint in years, old field-telephones run from torch batteries in home-made holders, and "underground" posters from London on the Customs office walls! We filled in goods and currency declarations (in triplicate); Orodruin got a very cursory inspection, and Shadowfax none at all. Meanwhile beside us, a German party in a Land Rover were being taken to pieces. Then to the health office, to present our vaccination certificates. The exchange office being closed, a black marketeer changed currency for us, on the health officer's own desk, in his presence!!
And so on, via the police office, to present our visas, and to the motor insurance agent. His office was officially closed (Ramazan again), but he opened for us, and issued the necessary papers. Rik commented on a portrait behind his desk; this was Mohammad Da'oud Khan, the Afghan head of state. This "emperor-worship", seen to an even greater degree in Iran, we find rather depressing. It is also found in some Communist countries, but more usually they "worship" the State as an abstraction, rather than a personality cult of the leader. Was Da'oud Khan a "good" man, asked Rik. A pause followed, then "Yes, yes, very good", said with just too much emphasis to be convincing.

After completing our papers, a quick çay next door. Afghani çay is served in individual pots, each good for some 3½ cups. Sometimes a choice of green or black is offered. We were also offered hashish (still in the Customs area!), and purchased a small (and incredibly cheap) piece, to see what the stuff looks like.
It is a dark brown resin, tending almost to black, with a slightly peppery odour. The test of a good piece is that it has a distinctive smell, and should crumble readily in the fingers. When stale, it becomes hard.

We gained an hour crossing the border (time zone now D+, GMT+4½ hours), and set off into Afghanistan at about 1730D+. Rather late to make Herat (75 miles) by nightfall. We encountered our first Afghan road-tax point some 25 miles in, and paid the 30Af tax. This tax is paid to the local chieftain, whose allegiance to Kabul is often far from complete, in consideration of a safe-conduct along the road through his territory (You do not drive off that road!). The total tax across Afghanistan is about 250Af.

The Afghan roads are well built, and have a good surface. They were built partly by the Russians and partly by the Americans, both nations vying for favours from the strategically placed Afghanistan. The roads are almost completely empty of any traffic. They frequently dip into dry river-beds (warned of by a very explicit sign), which are lined with concrete (the road itself is asphalt) to prevent their being washed away.

As nightfall approached, we were still some 30 miles from Herat, though this distance was uncertain, as the kilometre posts give distances from the frontier on one side, and from Kabul on the other! The road ran past a range of low hills on the northern side, with mountains visible beyond. It gave us pause for thought that these hills are, in effect, the outriders of the Himalayas.

Some 30 miles from Herat, we reached a roadhouse (the "Green Hotel"), and Keith stopped to ask the distance to Herat. The Afghans there were extremely friendly and invited us to stay the night free of charge. Çay was brought and the usual scenes with maps, explaining our route, ensued. Later the bus from the frontier arrived and the passengers (mostly Westerners) were served çay and food. Meanwhile, we were given a room to ourselves. As the bus arrived, our host left to serve them, saying "I will get rid of these people". Most strange, we thought, the more so as we noted that he had locked our door as he left, and Rik discovered a man with a rifle outside the window! There being no other choice, we waited on developments. In due course, the bus left and a meal of rice, etc., was brought for us.

After our hosts returned, we were treated to a demonstration of hashish smoking. They inspected our recently purchased hashish, pronounced it stale, and produced a much larger and fresher specimen. A home-made hookah was set up and the bowl loaded with about 1oz of neat cannabis resin. A light layer of charcoal was placed on top and lit with a match. The operator drew on this with amazing force; his lungs going like a forge-bellows and the charcoal glowing yellow-hot. Smoke pouring everywhere! He told us he had been smoking hashish since he was 10 years old. When it was going well, we were offered a puff. Well, you can't refuse without giving offence, so we each took a good hard draw. After all, if he could smoke like that, one draw should not hurt us! He staggered about the yard as though very drunk; the main immediate effect on me was of lethargy, followed by vertigo.
This confusion of the sense of balance is presumably the cause of the effect noted in habitual hashish smokers, of making every movement slowly and carefully. I was pouring my çay just so.

I decided to get up and walk round the building, to try to clear my head. During this walk, I fell victim to a strange hallucination. The front of the building is of brick, the rear being the usual mud and straw walls. To me, however, the rear seemed as it truly was, while the front seemed like a smooth concrete wall, with a wet concrete paved area in front of it. This area, as I proved by touch, was in fact gravel and quite dry.

Later on, we all, quite independently, became affected by an intense paranoia. What an easy set-up, indeed, for robbery! Your victims smoke hashish, and hence attribute to it the symptoms induced by a sleeping-draught (or worse) in their çay.
Toll Ticket We noted here that none of the Afghans had eaten or drunk anything with us (Ramazan, of course!). I caught myself out on the main road, trying to walk to Herat. Returning, a long discussion ensued, as a result of which we very abruptly got up and left, to drive to Herat at night. A desperate drive that was, going very slowly, Keith and I constantly describing the road to each other as a check on any hallucinations that might develop. During this drive, we encountered another toll-barrier. It was apparently unmanned, so Keith got out to open the barrier. Immediately, two soldiers appeared, and detached the counterfoil from the toll ticket issued earlier in the day. They didn't charge an additional toll, however.

Some distance past this barrier, we encountered a broken-down bus, and set about to tow-start it. (These buses are diesel engined, and usually have no battery at all. They rely on a push-start at the depot; and are utterly lost if they stall!) A most tedious business, in our state. We met some more Westerners among the bus passengers, and explained to them what had happened to us, in case we were missed later.

During the remainder of the drive, Keith and I both found ourselves affected by an identical hallucination that the road curved round to the right. The illusion was complete, even to a partial sideways view of Shadowfax (which was here leading). Nevertheless, the road was quite straight. Once we had identified the hallucination, we could counter it, although we still experienced it. The knowledge that what you are seeing is unreal, does not dispel the illusion.

Another hallucination I experienced was equally dangerous. At this point, Keith was driving. It seemed that someone or something was standing beside me, just outside of Orodruin. I heard nothing, but the meaning was dreadfully clear; "Come outside to me, I am your heart's desire..." We were moving at 30mph or so; I had to fight hard against the temptation to open that door and step outside!

As to the more subtle effects of hashish on the human mind, I find it rather difficult to describe. It drastically altered my impressions of the other three of us; Keith appearing downright threatening and hostile, indeed sinister; Rik as a stable common-sense point; I got no explicit impression from Brian.

We made Herat about 2400D+, and were directed to one of the many cheap hotels there, frequented by both Afghans and Westerners. We got a 4-bed room for 20Af per night each, food optional and extra.

The following morning (Saturday) we slept late! Keith and Rik got up first, and left to investigate the town. Brian and I followed later, all of us still under the effects of the previous night. As we went, we met Nikko, a German passenger in the bus we towed. He took us back to his hotel, where we met two American girls off the same bus, and Penny, Mark and John from Tehran! All agreed that the Green Hotel is a good place, and that our feelings were purely a drug-induced hallucination.

Penny, Mark and John left early this morning, on the 0530D+ bus to Kandahar, having last night showed us a cheap restaurant for supper. Herat is an incredibly sleepy town. At an altitude of only some 3000ft, it gets quite hot, and there is nothing to do (to judge from local habits) but sit around and smoke hashish! There is an amazing duplicity here: narcotics are illegal, but everyone uses them, including the police. The attitude is well summarised by a notice in Nikko's hotel:

"WARNING. To our foreign visitors. The smoking of hashish is against the law in Afghanistan.
Please do not smoke in your room. You may smoke on the roof; then, if the police come, there is no smell in the hotel".
"A country rushing headlong into the 14th century" is a pretty good description (1973 newspaper article).


The Expedition commences its third day of lying exhausted on its collective back in a cheap hotel room in Herat! Nothing at all was done yesterday, except that a very good supper was concocted (you can use the hotel "kitchen" free, to cook your own food) as an omelette and chips. The kitchen is amazing, just a large Primus stove and a huge hot-water machine for çay. Washing up is done in the loo-shower.

28-9-74 (Saturday)

We are still in the Shahzad Hotel in Herat, resting, and going down in turns with the local bug (a mild form of dysentery, usually lasting 24-48 hours). Keith is down with it at present, and seems to have it worse than the rest of us.
The hotel is a lunatic place, we have assorted Afghan smugglers, a European hashish smuggler, a black marketeer, and a transitory population of some half-dozen Western travellers such as ourselves.
The hotel manager has arranged the soldering-up of Shadowfax' leaky jerricans, I am thinking of having ours welded up by one of the many mechanics around here.

This hotel, alas, is not to be recommended. (It is nevertheless, one of the best in town!) The food is pretty abysmal , our room has no door, and now no light, and the water (derived from a street standpipe) is frequently off. The buildings are of adobe (mud brick), what happens in the rainy season, no-one seems to know! Due to the low and erratic water pressure here, water supply is by two 44-gallon drums on the loo roof, filled as required from the standpipe via a hose.
The electricity here is most erratic, the power being used only for lighting. Hardly any lights have (working) switches; they start up the generator(s) at dusk and shut them down at dawn!

I watched the hotel owner installing some outside lights on a pergola frame. Running a length of common fence-wire along nails down each side of the timber: these were directly connected to the two AC lines! No insulation at all. (Afghani power is 220V).

Of the hotels we have looked at (while staying at the Shahzad), the Behzad (not the Super Behzad) serves quite respectable breakfasts, and very good çay, but half the items on their menu are wholly imaginary! The Yaquin has a very nice restaurant, and actually serves all the items on its (rather shorter) menu. It alone serves pancakes (to which we are rather partial), and also porridge. Quaker porridge oats are available in cans at some 60Af per half kilo.
The Yaquin and Shahzad Hotels have the advantage of private courtyards, with obvious benefits in vehicle security. However food and other comsumables left lying around have disappeared, so we are tightening up. We are planning to leave on Monday morning. Information about the middle road through Afghanistan is confused, so we shall go South through Kandahar.

We have the following advance information:

  1. In Kandahar, the Peace Hotel is recommended.
  2. Don't hang around in Kabul, it's full of tourists. You can readily drive from Kabul to Peshawar in a day (a very hard day that would be!!)
  3. It's not worth buying Pakistani Rupees on the Kabul black market.
  4. In Peshawar, the National Hotel is rather expensive, but has a large open çay area, where many Pakhtun tribesmen gather. Over, say, a week, you can "cultivate" a tribesman (they're quite friendly), and he will then invite you (in safety) into the mountains.
  5. The tourists all bypass Pakistan, but it's really quite worth seeing.
Possibly the first impressions one gets of Herat are the quiet and the smell! There is very little motor traffic, many bicycles and horse rickshaws (or Tangas). These latter are taxis, charging a flat rate of 10Af anywhere in town.
The smell, alas, is derived from the open drains along either side of each street. These are used as toilets, and also as general refuse dumps.

Dominating the skyline is the (ruined) fort. There has been a fort here since the time of Alexander the Great; Herat has had a very troubled history, being conquered and razed several times. Only in 1929 did it finally lose its status as an independent city-state, and accede to Kabul.

Despite the quiet, the city is very much a crossroads, with travellers in both directions usually resting up a few days. There is much interchange of information.

This evening a Penn Overland bus (overland in luxury!) arrived in town, and we (with some locals) amused ourselves gawping at the tourists gawping at us! Penn use the Super Behzad; i.e. avoid it yourself!

The other crazy thing about Herat is the bank! It takes ages to change money, and if you're caught by the bank's closing (the exchange office is only open for some 2½ hours each morning) the teller calmly refers you to a black marketeer in the bazaar! Black market in Afghanistan is like hashish; technically illegal, but quite openly operating. Black market currency rate is almost identical to the bank's.


Keith is still recovering from the bug. For this reason, we have deferred our leaving by 24 hours (until Tuesday morning). Except for Keith, we went over to the Yaquin Hotel for breakfast (porridge). While waiting for them to fetch the oats from the bazaar, we watched a group of Germans leaving. They had paid their score fairly but, the manager being absent, the staff demanded an extra 100Af baksheesh, and locked the gate to prevent their leaving. Since the manager did not return, they eventually had to pay. Potential visitors beware! Other hotels may also try this one. (The Shahzad did not, however, when we left).

During the morning, I had our two leaky water cans repaired by a radiator specialist in this street (20Afs each, done while I waited). He used a colossal blowlamp to heat a soldering iron. His irons (he had a vast selection racked on the wall) were obviously locally made, being axe-shaped bits on shafts of ¼-inch steel rod. The heating capacity of these bits is terrific, they probably weighed 8oz apiece, solid copper. He wouldn't touch petrol cans; but as I'm not sure where the leak is in the petrol one, I have left it for now.
The remaining work of the day comprised an attempt to locate saleable garbage around Orodruin, to lighten it. I found only a small quantity, and following the poor price (100Af) Brian got for his duffel coat, I abandoned the idea.

In Herat we encountered for the first time, fully-veiled women, and children begging in the street. Apparently, Islamic law requires giving to the poor, so doubtless the children don't do that badly. As noted earlier, you can't start giving to them, they are simply too numerous (and even more so in India).


We reached Kandahar late last night (at last!)

On the 30th, I had the pump in our petrol stove overhauled, and the washer replaced for 20Af. I have also overhauled the remainder of that stove. We decided to dispose of the (now totally useless) footpump, and the wooden loudspeaker box, for which I got 140Af. Before selling the speaker box, we salvaged the good speaker from it and substituted an ancient ex-Shadowfax one. So we disposed of pure junk.
The same shop offered me a Czech-made 6.35mm automatic pistol for $40, and ammunition at 50 rounds for $10. The weapon was in apparently very good condition, of a very simple design (pure blowback action, and no safety catch or counter trigger). Price noted as possibly typical, for future reference.

Over the next two days, Keith recovered from his bug, with the aid of the local remedy (a small pellet of raw opium!) He reports this settles a grumbling stomach wonderfully, in too small a dose to have any narcotic 'effects.
Over the same period, I in turn contracted a similar bug, though in a milder form. Hence, our much delayed departure from Herat, and our failure to see much of the place. Most of the time, one of us was ill.

We got up aroud 0700D+ yesterday, but with packing and reorganising ourselves, it was 1130D+ before we left.

We are taking Nikko and his friend Gerd on to Peshawar, where Nikko hopes to show us the town (or some of it). On the way out of Herat, we passed the Herat Hotel, a Hilton-esque building, near the airport. The road began as a tree-lined avenue, but soon ran out into the usual barren Afghan scenery. There is a fairly hilly stretch just out of Herat, rising to 1700 metres height. The road is of square concrete slabs, and unlike the road into Herat, most of the wadis have been filled by embankments, with small central bridges to clear the floodwater, rather than the road just dipping into the wadi. After the hilly stretch, the road runs over a succession of flat plains interspersed with short hilly sections, with the Hindu Kush mountains visible all around. Everywhere are very thorough floodwater defences on the road, and systems of dikes and breakwaters. Evidence of severe seasonal flooding, although the area is now very dry.

There are two toll gates between Herat and Kandahar, which, with the one before Herat, have levied a total of 120Af so far, per vehicle.
Along the road we saw a number of Afghani mud-hut villages; these have the same dome roofs as the Iranis, but with a central smoke-hole, sometimes with a form of chimney cowl. We also passed a number of nomad settlements, comprising circular black tents, supported by bowed poles with both ends anchored in the ground, again giving a dome shape. The nomads herd sheep and goats, and also collect a remarkable amount (considering how few trees there are) of firewood at their settlements.

We understand from Nikko that, if you take supper at a çay house, you are allowed to stay the night free, as a matter of custom. This explains the free offer at the Green Hotel, and fills in the last unknown in that rather unfortunate episode. A friend of Nikko's didn't even bother to apply for a permit to travel the (forbidden to foreigners) northern route through Mazar-i-Sharif, he just joined a jeep-load of Afghans who were going anyway!

We passed only one fuel station on the road to Kandahar, near the Farah River crossing.
The kilometre posts in Afghanistan are singularly annoying (at least as far as Kandahar!), in that they give distances (every 5km) from Kabul and from the Irani border only. No mention of Herat or Kandahar. Further, as you approach them, they give the distance you have come from the respective end of the road, not the distance you have to go.

The run to Kandahar proved longer than we had expected, and we had to finish the journey at night. Repairs to Orodruin's electrical system in Herat enabled Keith (who drove all day as I was still recovering from the bug) to use the spotlight and searchlight in addition the the headlamps. The toll gates on this road are followed, after a very variable distance, by a checkpoint, at which they detach the counterfoil from your ticket. This checkpoint does not issue the next ticket, there is a long stretch of free road first.

During most of the day's run, we were leapfrogging with two British registered vehicles, a saloon car carrying a "British Pakistani", and a VW minibus with four English people and two hitchhikers. About an hour after dark, shortly after the last toll checkpoint, we were flagged down by the VW crew, who had hit an old woman "sitting in the road". (We had heard hideous whispers in London concerning old people "sitting in the road" in Afghanistan. In some of these villages, human life is about the cheapest commodity to be had. Consequently, the old, the infirm, unwanted infants and other "useless mouths" are of more benefit to the community in the form of insurance money, than alive. Hence they are deliberately put on the road, for that very purpose. Do not drive at night in Afghanistan!!)
[NB This was long before the Taliban.]

The woman had suffered a very badly broken leg, and the wounding, shock, and loss of blood to be expected. I photographed the scene for evidence if required later. Keith rendered what first-aid he could, by the light of our collective headlamps, while we flagged down such oncoming traffic as there was. A taxi-load of Afghans stopped, and then drove on toward Kandahar to get help; the VW having gone back to the toll point for the same purpose, only to find it had no telephone.

Meanwhile, a military jeep drove straight past, and eventually the police arrived by lorry. We then proceeded in convoy towards Kandahar, after the police had commandeered a passing car as a makeshift ambulance. En route the convoy disintegrated; and following instructions, the VW and ourselves proceeded to the police station in Kandahar. There, they were required to leave their vehicle, and the driver's passport, and to return in the morning.
Meanwhile at the hospital, a corrupt police officer was charging the "ambulance" driver with causing the accident, so we went to try to testify for him.
We couldn't get a hearing however, so in the end we had to leave, after collecting a blanket we had lent the woman for the journey. The last we heard was that the same police officer was charging a friend whom the "ambulance" driver had called in to interpret with us!! Corruption unlimited, I suspect that officer will be demanding baksheesh for dropping the charges. (We heard tell of a similar episode a few months earlier in Herat, at the Yaquin Hotel, in connection with the death of a heroin addict there.) On our pointing out the preposterous nature of the whole affair, we were met with a helpless gesture, and "This is Afghanistan..."

That hospital was an awful warning not to get ill hereabouts! Apparently no conception of hygiene, and shockingly primitive equipment.
Meanwhile, the "ambulance" driver claimed he had spent 500Af on medicine for the patient, and was attempting to reclaim this. Eventually we, by now hungry and tired, abandoned the whole issue and went in search of a hotel. The Peace and New Tourist were full, so we ended up at the Aria. Very nice (if cold) beds, 25Af/night, and good but slightly expensive food.

After coffee this morning, we went out to look at Kandahar. Fetching up in another hotel restaurant, we met the two hitchhikers from the VW. Meanwhile Brian and Nikko had met two of the VW crew themselves. We now hear (by various channels) that the car driver (apparently quite well off) was held by the police all night and released today. It appears that the VW people are also to be discharged today. (But see later for the ultimate fate of the driver). The fate of the woman is still unknown.

Kandahar is a much larger, more modern and touristy place than Herat. My first impression was of traffic-signs, etc. in much greater numbers than in Herat; traffic is much heavier. Also, since the hotel has an electric water pump and refrigerator, the electricity clearly runs all the time, rather than only at night, as in Herat.
In the central square is the Salimi Restaurant, with a rather touristy atmosphere. You won't find any Afghans there, but for Afghani and Western food (even apple pie, custard, and fried egg sandwiches!) cooked to the best Western standards, it is a most welcome change. Prices are very reasonable for what you get, about 50% higher than a normal Afghan place. The "Visitors' Book" is worth looking through, some prize quotes.

In the course of the afternoon, we watched a bus failing miserably to make a U-turn across the dual carriageway of the Herat road. His steering gear was utterly useless, with about 10 degrees steering lock only; after several efforts, "aided" by two policemen, he finally gave up and drove round the block! Later on a cyclist wobbled into a lorry, he was knocked flying but was unhurt. The lorry didn't even stop.


Getting up very early this morning, we hoped for an early start for Kabul. Alas the Afghanistan Bank in Kandahar is even slower than the one in Herat; taking a full two hours to change DM100. Cash sales are endorsed on the back of the green currency declaration form (mine was forged to conceal the earlier black market sale of DM200, but this went unnoticed). While waiting for the bank to open (the exchange office opens at 0900D+) Nikko, Brian and I waited in the Salimi, just across the square. Meanwhile the other three ate at the Peace Hotel, they speak very highly of the cuisine.

Eventually we cleared Kandahar (there are petrol stations on both the Herat and Kabul roads), and set off at nearly 12 noon, after meeting again with the VW bus crew. The woman's condition is still unknown (and hence likely to remain so to us), the police are still holding the driver's passport. Nikko suspects a lack of baksheesh is the trouble here. The kilometre posts out of Kandahar are very poor. For the first 100 miles or so, they give on the north sides, the kilometres from Kabul, as before (post distance of Kandahar from Kabul =480km), the south sides are blank. After 100 miles, they are totally blank.
The road is similar to the Iran - Herat road, asphalt with concrete floodtroughs. The surface is of mixed quality, mostly good but with a few bumpy patches. After a rather hilly initial section, it runs very smooth through a wide valley, with the jagged Hindu Kush a few miles to the northwest. This valley is surprisingly fertile, its superficial appearance being as arid as that from Herat, but there are many permanent villages, with irrigated field systems. Frequently here, the wells are equipped with shadufs instead of the windlasses previously seen.

About halfway to Kabul is a very sandy area, the few flood barriers (there were some even here) being sand-filled.
As night drew on, we reached Ghazni, and decided to stop for the night. The Ghazni Hotel, out on the main road, is diabolically expensive, 55Af per night with beds, or 20Af camping. A few motorised tourists were there, we met an Austrian couple who were returning after travelling the central road in a Land Rover. They reported no political trouble at all, you just go! Quite safe, but next to no road at all.
We drove a few kilometres and turned left (i.e. ignore the Afghan Tourist map, which shows Ghazni to the right of the road) to Ghazni town, to fetch up at the Faroukhi Hotel. This is still a little expensive, at 30Af/night (we bargained down to 25Af for a room with 5 beds, Brian willing to sleep on the floor), it is apparently a sort of Afghan transport cafe. Many Afghans were there, and a few foreigners. No doubt the Afghans pay less. The room is small (for 5 beds) but clean. Iron Army-type beds (as at the Aria), not the Afghan wood and rope bed common in Herat. The vehicles are parked in the open outside, and apparently the hotel has a guard on vehicles overnight (not unreasonable, for a transport cafe).

We are now forming the opinion that Afghanistan is a pretty friendly and safe country, and that the tales told in London are vastly exaggerated. (The principal hazard would seem to be corrupt officials.)


Up at dawn today; bitterly cold. Being Ramazan, there was no breakfast available, so we got on the road at once. The mountains close in as the road rises from the 6000ft of Ghazni to Kabul's 8000ft. At these high altitudes, there are beehives in the villages (hitherto unseen in Afghanistan). We passed numerous children trekking to school (hence, even in fairly remote villages, education seems to be taken fairly seriously), making the road somewhat hazardous. We refuelled 20 miles from Kabul, at a marvellously primitive filling station, where the pump is of the semi-rotary hand-operated type, the handle making four double strokes per litre. The operator worked it pretty briskly to pump some 60 litres to each vehicle!

On reaching Kabul, which we entered by a long wide boulevard, Nikko directed us to the Post Office, to check Poste Restante. Gerd set about trying to send samples of tea home in cigarette packets. They were, of course, torn open for Customs inspection. After about an hour, we left him arguing with the officials, advising him to come after us to the Pakistan Embassy, or to Sigi's Restaurant nearby, both in the tourist quarter of town. The Embassy advised (confirmed by a notice outside) that Road Permits are no longer required for the crossing into India. So on to Sigi's, which the BIT guide, etc., recommend. They have a rather unusual system; you take a ticket on entry, on which your score is made up as you eat, and you then settle when you leave. Food is good, with Western dishes available, prices are not unreasonable. Çay (minted) is free, as much as you want, but you fetch it yourself from the kitchen. Service however, is bad; very slow.
At Sigi's, we met an American couple en route for South America. They have seen a film made by a traveller to Hunza, and advise that the "road" is fearsome but passable. That film showed vehicles being lifted over ravines on improvised hoists, etc. The area may be prohibited, as the Chinese have been building roads there (see later!); apparently American tourists have been photographing the work, to the annoyance of the Chinese. This couple were hoping to take buses from Pakistan direct into Kashmir by a road which exists, but has long been closed. The Embassy advised that it is still closed, however.

As for South America, they said that the high-altitude countries in the northeast are probably the most worth visiting, that Keith and I could spend a lifetime in Peru alone. The Trans-Amazonia Highway is apparently completed, but gets overgrown again as fast as they can clear it!

Leaving Kabul Finally, after some two hours in Sigi's, we were forced to abandon Gerd to his fate, and leave his kit at the German Embassy. We therefore went to the Embassy, after an abortive attempt to buy black market Pakistani Rupees (the offered rate was appalling!), and left Gerd's kit with them.
On the road out, we stopped to fill up with petrol. We filled 5 cans, using up our remaining surplus Afghanis. One of these cans was bought from Rik and Brian, who were grossly overcharged, probably as a result of taking a rather aggressive line with the attendant. He used the old trick of not zeroing the pump dials after the last customer. In Afghanistan, all pumps seem to have the cash-dial disabled, only the litre counter is operative.
The road out led through a dismal shanty-town of tents, and past the radio station and a large military base, with a large park full of Russian tank transporters. No tanks, though.

The road quickly entered the mountains, and developed into a very spectacular run indeed, running high up the south side of the Kabul River gorge. Vicious hairpin bends, tunnels, etc. About 40 miles from Kabul, in the heart of the mountains, the road drops very steeply to the floor of the gorge (where it widens out a little). Just here, a lorry had run into the river; several people were engaged in salvaging what was left; axles, engine parts, etc. were all laid out on sacks at the roadside, with (by then) little but the chassis left in the river.

Hindu Kush The rocks are the jagged peaks of the Hindu Kush, the rock being a rather friable type, with much scree about. Very dangerous climbing, I would think. Keith and I observed that one should be able to canoe through that gorge, which would probably be a world first! Later we ran out of the mountains, into a most refreshing wide, well watered valley, with green fields and trees.

It was now evident that we would not reach the Khyber Pass by nightfall, so we decided to stop in Jalalabad. We like the town; friendly people and no tourists (they don't stop here). The Khaiber Hotel (sic) got us a fine 5-bed room on the top floor, at 20Af each. There is no restaurant there, but there is no lack of eating places in the town. Nikko found fruit and vegetables very cheap in the market.

As we moved east through Afghanistan, we encountered more and more Pakistani lorries. These are a real visual experience; old Bedford and American chassis, with locally built body and cab, marvellously painted up, and everyone different. A pity, having put so much effort into building them, to drive them so abominably!


Jalalabad is much warmer than the rest of Afghanistan, west of the mountains. We slept with just the quilt as found, on the beds. In the morning, there was a great deal of bird-song, unheard for some time.

The rocks in the mountains seem to be of two distinct types. The more western part, as noted above, is a dark coloured, rather friable type, cracked into large blocks; while eastward a type of conglomerate prevails, with well rounded (glacial?) boulders from about 10cm diameter upward, embedded in a matrix of a light colour, but uncertain composition.

Jalalabad has a surprising number of brick and concrete buildings (this hotel being one), besides the usual adobe. The concrete is well built, often, as in the Khaiber Hotel, of the precast, system-built type; but the brickwork looks rather rough, the mortar being scanty and of poor quality. Electricity apparently runs 24 hours a day here.

During the run through the gorge yesterday, we passed several hydro-electric installations. The map shows a large dam (the Warsak Dam) farther down the river, after the road leaves it to climb the Khyber Pass.
Also yesterday, we passed a European heading East alone, on a push-bike! Brave fellow!!

We left Jalalabad at 0700D+; a much warmer morning than hitherto. The valley has a very lush sub-tropical vegetation, with palm trees, etc. We were approached for a lift by a fellow European in the hotel, who had spent some months in jail (for hashish possession), and said that he was trying to return to the village where he had been arrested, and where his passport was still held. Rik and Brian gave him a lift to the nearest point on the main road.

Before starting off, I had examined our air-cleaner, to see how much dirt it had accumulated since the desert. The oil was clean but the intake slits were heavily choked with dust. Possibly because it was now breathing easier, the engine ran very well today.

On the road out of Jalalabad, we encountered an ingenious bus-stop. The villagers place a line of rocks across the road, so forcing the next lorry to stop. When it does so, some 40-odd people climb on, the driver having no say at all, the rocks are cleared and the de facto bus continues!
There was surprisingly heavy traffic on that road; trucks, animals and pedestrians; making the first 20-odd miles from Jalalabad quite hectic driving. We kept up a good speed, however.

There is a pre-checkpoint some 10km before the Customs post proper; where baggage checks are carried out. A very effective dodge; it comes quite unexpectedly, and had we had any contraband with us, we would likely have been caught before hiding it properly for the border. The officials took quite a friendly interest in the vehicles, and questioned us about the gadgetry; which we showed off in the same spirit, and left on very friendly terms.

On arriving at the post proper, we found the road blocked by a long queue of painted Pakistani lorries. We drove past these to the Customs post, and presented our papers. Our thoroughly bogus currency declarations were passed with barely a second glance, even Keith's which showed him as changing no money at all (this would have been just possible, as he is one of a party). Rik had some difficulty changing Sterling to raise his 200Af exit tax (this is payable to Afghanistan; 100Af per person leaving the country).
Local people wander constantly to and fro across the border, with no paperwork at all. These are tribesmen; the border lying in tribal territory, where the authority of the respective Governments is far from complete.

We spent about three hours at the border, including breakfast at the Pakistani tourist inn.

Copyright © 1974 - 2004 David R. Brooks

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